Nabil Ayers, son of legendary musician Roy Ayers, comes to Atlanta to discuss new memoir
Some people just have music in their blood, and Nabil Ayers is one of them. As the president of the Beggars Group record label, he has overseen releases from the National, Grimes and St. Vincent, just to name a few. He’s also a prolific writer, and he’ll be at Criminal Records this Sunday to discuss his new memoir, “My Life in the Sunshine.” The book explores his minimal relationship with his father, the legendary jazz musician Roy Ayers. “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes dove deeper into Ayers’ story.
Though he became fascinated with his ancestry throughout his life, Nabil Ayers never knew his father — he once said his father was “really just DNA.” But he knew his parents’ story. In 1971, Louise Braufman, a white, Jewish former ballerina, chose to have a child with the famous Black jazz musician Roy Ayers. Braufman didn’t want a co-parent, preferring to have and raise her own child, which she did. Today, Nabil’s a successful creator and entrepreneur, and a series of recent discoveries about his family tree sparked the desire to explore the lineage in writing.
Speaking about his upbringing, and his mother’s unique choice to consensually conceive the son she’d raise alone, Ayers said, “It was a very unique situation, but there wasn’t a divorce — he didn’t leave us — so I was ‘okay.’ And all of that’s true, but it was hard to get deeper than that with people. But weirdly, writing about it was easier, and then once I started writing about it and started publishing things, that’s when more family started to get in touch.”
Earlier in his life, Ayers always assumed that he was “half-white and half-Black,” a simple enough explanation for him. “But five or six years ago, when I started getting more into it and I did 23andme, I learned that, of course, my father wasn’t 100% Black, which meant that I wasn’t technically 50% Black, and I felt more white once I got that information.” But soon after, he discovered an archival trove in the form of his father’s family tree with photos and stories attached. As it turned out, his father’s lineage showed a rich history of Black ancestors, many of whom were enslaved in the 1800s.
For Ayers, one of the brightest outcomes of his ongoing inquiry is the many previously unknown relatives he’s met. “The reason I keep touring around the country and the world is that every event I do, someone shows up who is either related to my father somehow, meaning they played with him in the ’70s or I’ve met his tour manager from back then or it’s somebody I’m actually related to. I’ve met cousins and all kinds of people that are actual family along this trip, so it’s still very much happening in real time and a very exciting thing.”
Catch Nabil Ayers signing and discussing “My Life in the Sunshine: Searching for my Father and Discovering my Family” at Criminal Records this Sunday, Feb. 19 at 5:00 PM. More information is available here.